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Inclusion riders
Illustration Callum Abbott

What are inclusion riders and why are DJs talking about them?

Equality stipulations are becoming increasingly common in contracts – here, artists discuss whether they’re step forward for the electronic music scene or a tokenistic approach to diversity

When it comes to musicians’ riders, we tend to think about outlandish artist demands – rooms filled with candles or white lilies, eye-wateringly expensive booze, a framed photo of Princess Diana. A rider is essentially an addition to an artist’s performing contract, but there’s another type of contract condition that the electronic music world has been discussing: inclusion riders.

Inclusion riders have been a fixture in the film industry for some time, with Frances McDormand ending her Oscars acceptance speech in 2018 by name-dropping the term. In Hollywood, it means that you can ask for and/or demand at least 50 per cent diversity, not just in casting but also in the crew. In the music industry, however, they’re less common – research recently undertaken by Pirate Studios found that only seven per cent of the 700 artists they surveyed currently have an inclusion rider, while only 30 per cent knew what one was.

“The first time I became aware of inclusion riders was through the EQ50 initiative (a collective of women working towards fairer representation within drum & bass),” says Nia Archives, an up-and-coming producer. “Within the drum & bass and jungle scene there is a history of exclusively male line-ups. If more artists were to have an inclusion rider in place it would ensure that more women (especially POC women) are given the same opportunities to be booked as their male peers.”

object blue, an artist with an inclusion rider implemented in her contract, tells Dazed: “It’s the opposite of tokenising: every promoter I work with, I can feel their passion and careful line-up selection; I believe they won’t compromise even if they have to look a little further from their usual booking pool. They’re not going to tack on a minority artist who doesn’t fit the bill and say, ‘Here you go, please accept the offer!’ (if they ever do, I will fight them!) There are plenty of exciting artists who happen to be minorities, making all sorts of music, and I want them to be lifted from relative obscurity. Quotas can effect change; dialogue is nice, but action gets the goods.”

Emerging DJ and producer Breaka, who also has an inclusion rider, agrees, believing that “bringing up inclusivity at the start of the booking process means that promoters will have to focus on diversifying their line-up from the get-go,” he says. “This will ideally push positive discrimination rather than tokenism, meaning that artists from marginalised groups are valued for their talent, not used as a status symbol.”

A well-established white male DJ/producer, who requested to be kept anonymous in this piece, said he first implemented a gender diversity quota around six or seven years, off the back of conversations with female friends. “The rationale is pretty textbook – offering a platform to marginalised artists that might not otherwise be offered the opportunity, while also trying to make sure that marginalised young audience members don’t just see a parade of successful white cis dudes on stage and think, ‘This isn’t for me’.” 

“Quotas can effect change; dialogue is nice, but action gets the goods” – object blue

As of last year, he “committed to also being similarly proactive” about events he plays being racially diverse, but has found it difficult to ascribe a fixed quota since demographics vary so much from region to region. “You can’t realistically expect a promoter to book 20 per cent Black, ten per cent South East Asian and five per cent Middle-Eastern artists to play on one night at a small club,” he tells Dazed. ”So for now (and this approach is still a work in progress) I’m just checking every offer that comes in and making sure that either there’s enough POC on the line-up itself, or that the promoter has a good track record. Obviously, in the case of booking local artists, the demographics of the city in question would need to be taken into account – you’d expect more from a promoter in London than you would from one in Warsaw, for example.”

However, he thinks ‘inclusion rider’ shouldn’t just be a line buried in an artist‘s contract, but “needs to be an active conversation between the artist, agent, and booker or promoter, otherwise the clause in the contract just gets ignored.” He adds that generally he’s had to be strict with it, and that it has necessitated “having quite a few direct conversations, turning down offers, and making difficult decisions – and often I’ve needed to suggest appropriate artists to promoters myself.” 

It seems there’s no one-size-fits-all model for inclusion riders. DJ and producer Om Unit, who has been vocal in support for them but declined being interviewed for this piece based on not wanting to be their spokesperson, previously shared the wording of his contract: “The Promoter agrees to book at least one person or persons who would be defined as being a member of an under-represented group(s) in electronic music playing on the same stage or bigger (or minimum 20 per cent of the artists, whichever is greater).” ‘Under-represented group(s)’ means women, non-binary, Black, indigenous, people of colour, disabled, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer, or any combination of these terms.

The idea, however, doesn’t sit right with all artists. “This is just more tokenism in the music industry than actual progression,” says Jex Wang, a DJ, writer, and photographer who is part of the Eastern Margins collective. “I don’t understand why anyone would even want to work with promoters that need an ‘inclusion rider’ in order to make their line-ups more inclusive. How is that helping the situation? I don’t work with any promoters who need an ‘inclusion rider’ to be reminded of the fact that they can’t just book all white men.” 

“Marginalised people are not a ‘quota’, and diversity can not actually be measured in percentages,” they continue. “If these riders are to include 20 per cent marginalised people on the line-up, does that mean the rest has to be 80 per cent cis-het white people? Because I still would not want to go to that event...”

Wang adds: “I think people in the music scene who come from positions of privilege such as being a straight white male are now realising that maybe they don’t actually deserve their place as much because their white entitlement and privilege has been pointed out to them and this rider is just a way for them to still feel like they deserve to be booked because they are ‘helping’. Yet how are they actually helping when no one is actually tackling the real issues behind why the music scene is like this in the first place?”

James Priestley of London-based promoter Secretsundaze says they haven’t come across many inclusion riders when booking acts for their parties, but that they’ve “always tried to champion diverse and inclusive line-ups, so perhaps agents and artists are comfortable working with us along those lines and don’t see the need for a formal rider as such,” he says. Secretsundaze, he continues, sets “fairly strict internal quotas around diversity”. “I’m sure (inclusion riders) could be useful in some areas though, geographically speaking, but also in terms of certain areas of the scene where progress is slow.”

“Representation in our industry still has a long way to go,” Breaka acknowledges, “so little nudges like this are a good little step in the right direction. I hope to see more and more artists implement some sort of inclusion policy in their contracts. I think it is most important for those who are more established, but also is still effective for someone like myself that hasn’t been in the game as long. This sort of motion needs to come from the ground up.”